Ballou High School in Southwest Washington D.C. had the second lowest graduation rate in the D.C. Public Schools system. 57%, only second to Anacostia High School who had a rate of 42%. To make matters worse, last school year, only 3% of Ballou students met reading standards on standardized exams, according to Washington Post. But that didn’t stop the Class of 2017 for setting a very ambitious goal.

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All 190 seniors of the 2017 graduating class at Ballou High School have applied to college this year—a first for one of the city’s lowest performing schools.

“There are some schools and communities where college is an automatic next step. There is no celebration,” said Yetunde Reeves, Ballou’s principal in an interview with Washington Post. “Our kids don’t get that same message. We are trying to create and environment where going to college is what Ballou does as well.”

Located in one of the poorest wards in Washington D.C., every single one of Ballou’s 930 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop these students, who all had a goal to attend college.

Some schools they have applied for include: University of District of Columbia, Tennessee State University and North Carolina A&T State University.

Ballou was first made popular by the book, “A Hope In The Unseen,” a 1998 release that tells the story of Ron Suskind, who overcomes the troubling neighborhood and school with one-goal—to go to college. Suskind would go on to attend Ivy-League institution, Brown University as a first-generation college student.

And just like Suskind, many other students at Ballou have similar ambitions. 18-year-old Randy Sims has applied to atleast 14 colleges, including Penn State and Virginia State, both schools he’s been accepted to. 18-year-old Ayanna Rouse has also applied to just as many schools. This fall, she’ll be attending Radford University in Virginia. They both—like Suskind—will be the first in their family to go to college.

The students set this ambitious goal last spring, and they achieved it.

Pictured, Jamada Porter, college and career coordinator at Ballou High School in Washington D.C. (Photo: Bill O’ Learly/Washington Post

Less than two years ago, Jamanda Porter joined Ballou’s administration staff as a college and career coordinator. The school attributes much of its success to hear. The school is only one of three in the district with a full-time staff member in this position. “We are meeting our students where they are, but we are pushing them to higher expectations,” Porter said.

And it’s working. “Now they have choice. That is the beauty of this entire thing — you get to pick,” says Assistant Principal Straughter. “I am excited about seeing what the acceptance rate is going to be.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2017 at Ballou High School on becoming the first class to achieve 100% of its students to apply to college.

Watch the video below and share your thoughts. What will it take to help more lower-income schools reach this goal?

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Mike “Orie” Mosley is the managing editor for CurlyNikki.com and a cultural advocate from St. Louis. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Arts, Entertainment & Media Management from Columbia College Chicago and a Masters in Higher Education Administration from LSU. He is also the founder of www.afrotrak.com. In his spare time, he’s probably listening to hip hop & neo soul music, hitting up brunch or caught up in deep conversations about Black music. You can follow him on Twitter @mike_orie or on Instagram @mikeorie

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